A mosque in Paterson has received several threats by telephone in the wake of NYC terror atttack.
North Jersey Muslims were on edge Thursday as a Paterson mosque fielded a rash of hate-fueled phone calls threatening violence and arson following the arrest of Sayfullo Saipov, a city resident who authorities say was behind Tuesday’s deadly terror attack in New York City
The Islamic Center of Passaic County reported receiving eight threats, but officials would not say whether there was any evidence that the threats were credible.
Omar Awad, president and chief executive officer of the Islamic Center of Passaic County, said the calls were profane. Callers stated, “We’re gonna come get you and kill you,” and, “We’re going to burn down your place,” he said. Others said, “Get out of the country,” followed by curses and slurs, Awad said.
The Paterson police have conducted extra patrols and stationed a unit at the mosque during prayer time, Awad said, adding that the mosque has increased the hours of its own private security guards.
“The first thing that comes to mind when this takes place is how people are attaching the acts of a few individuals to a larger community,” Awad said. “Its very difficult for us to live with.”
Initial reports indicated that threats were also made against the Omar Mosque, which is around the corner from Saipov’s home. But authorities later said they had confirmed threats only at the Islamic Center of Passaic County.
North Jersey Muslims said they were shaken by the threats and that the mosque was being unfairly targeted in the wake of the terror attack.
“To pick one person and take their horrendous act and label everybody directly or indirectly — it’s guilt by association and it’s truly unfair because everybody I talked to is just horrified by what happened,” said Assad Akhter, a Passaic County freeholder who lives in South Paterson and has prayed at the mosque.
Paterson mosques have gotten threats and hate mail before, but local Muslim leaders believe the spike in incidents in the past two days is linked to reports that Saipov lived in the city, having moved there three months ago.
Saipov is accused of killing eight people and injuring 12 others on Tuesday when police said he drove a pickup truck that he rented at a Home Depot store in Passaic down a bike lane near the Hudson River in lower Manhattan.
Saipov had lived for several months with his wife and three young children in an apartment on Genessee Avenue, around the corner from Omar Mosque on Getty Avenue, according to authorities.
Some neighbors said they saw Saipov at the Omar Mosque, although some mosque members said they never saw him there. Leaders of the mosque — a large and popular mosque that draws hundreds of people for prayer services — could not be reached for comment.
“Unfortunately, it’s not a new phenomenon, but it’s hurtful after an incident like this,” Akhter said. “The human loss that occurred in New York City, we are all in morning for that. We’d like to believe all of us as Americans are on same side.”
Calls for hate crime investigation
The New Jersey chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, on Thursday called for state and federal law enforcement authorities to investigate the telephone threats to the mosque as a possible hate crime.
“We urge local, state and federal law enforcement authorities to treat this and all the other cases of threats and violence targeting American mosques with the seriousness they deserve and to bring the perpetrators to justice,” the chapter’s executive director, Jim Sues, said in a statement.
“We ask that law enforcement officials be especially vigilant at a time when the risk of backlash against the Muslim community is most severe,” Sues added.
The Paterson police have alerted the Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said Paterson Police Director Jerry Speziale.
Federal authorities did not provide specific information about the threats. A Homeland Security spokeswoman, Joanne Talbot, said the department “routinely works with federal partners as well as state and local law enforcement to assess threats and analyze trends and disseminate that intelligence to our partners.”
“Anybody who goes against the mosque, they don’t care,” said Abdel Hadi-Afendi, 56, of Jersey City. “Muslims are good people. We don’t hate nobody. We have to live together.”
Saipov, he added, “does not understand Islam. If you kill innocent people, you’re not a Muslim.”
Karim, 40, a Paterson resident who declined to give his last name, also was rattled by the news.
“That’s not the solution,” he said of the telephone threats. “We should not be like that. This is so sad. Everybody is in fear now.”
Jouma Jalou, a Bloomfield resident who attends holiday services in Paterson, said he worried about worshipers’ safety and about his his wife and daughters, aged 14 months and 1 month.
“When incidents like that happen,” Jalo said, referring to the terror attack on Tuesday, “we usually tend to stay in the house because of the threats to community, to kids and the mosque.”
“This is is nothing but an act of hatred. We’re all Americans and we all care about the safety of our nation,” he said.
Tuesday’s attack brought new negative attention to Paterson; several of the Sept. 11 hijackers briefly rented an apartment there, and rumors persisted that people in the city celebrated the destruction of the Twin Towers, even though officials and police say it never happened.